Directed by Eli Roth. Produced by Miguel Asensio, Colleen Camp, John T. Degraye, Cassian Elwes, Nicolás López, and Eli Roth. Written by Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolás López, and Eli Roth. Release date: October 9, 2015.
It’s a rare experience to see two movies released by the same director in the space of a few weeks, but that’s precisely what has happened with Eli Roth. Thanks to a lengthy delay, The Green Inferno came out just two weeks ago. Now we have Knock Knock, which has received a limited release coupled with a same-day release on VOD services. It’s especially odd in the case given how both movies are inspired by films from the ’70s, both star Roth’s wife, Lorenza Izzo – and yet they’re diametric opposites in both quality and content.
Knock Knock, which is technically inspired by 1977’s Death Game – although most audience members will draw more similarities to Michael Haneke‘s Funny Games, simply because they were more widely seen – is a movie with a very simple premise. A family man, Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves), is left home alone for a weekend while his wife (Ignacia Allamand) and children go to the beach. The first night, a couple of young women, Genesis and Bel (Izzo and Ana de Armas), show up on his porch, in the pouring rain, looking for a party. He invites them in to use his computer, dry off, and wait for an Uber. They eventually come onto him, he’s unable to resist temptation, and then they spend the rest of the movie punishing him for the mistake he made. Happy Father’s Day!
In The Green Inferno – and most of Roth’s filmography, really – blood, gore, and excessive violence were front and center. Here, he is restrained. There’s almost no violence and very little blood, which I realize may make Knock Knock the least liked among many of Roth’s fans. Instead, old-school atmosphere building, an incredible amount of tension – both of the sexual and non-sexual nature – and a fantastically campy tone hold our attention. It takes a talented director to make a movie that is both tense and funny, but that’s what Roth’s done with Knock Knock. Never let it be said that, given a good script – which this time out he only co-wrote – he can’t make a wonderful movie.
Weaved throughout the film are Roth’s takes on various issues, such as social media, sex, art, and, most prominently, infidelity. Some of them only have a couple of lines addressing the topic at hand, but at least there’s some effort being put in here. It’s astounding what one can do when not singularly focused on throwing as much red corn syrup at the camera as possible.
Knock Knock is the best feature-length film of Eli Roth’s career.
Knock Knock is way funnier than it probably has any right to be, and a large part of it has to do with the acting, which is either terrible or genius – it’s hard to tell which. Keanu Reeves has only rarely given “good” performances, but his obliviousness and naivety, followed by awkwardness, and topped off with fear is so hilariously bad that it’s incredibly effective at establishing a fantastically campy tone. Listening to him recite a monologue about how he’s the victim is reason enough to check out this movie; note how he relates the girls’ appearance to that of “free pizza.”
Meanwhile, Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas are so over-the-top that their caricatures ascend simple stereotypes and become compelling from moment one. You key in on what they’re going to be doing long before Reeves’ character does, and from that moment, you wonder exactly to what lengths they’ll go to in order to prove their points. And they do, indeed, go to some very extreme lengths. An impromptu game show, an insane amount of artistic defacement, and more profane taunts than a professional sporting event – these only scratch the surface of the depravity found within this movie.
All things considered, Knock Knock is the best feature-length film of Eli Roth’s career, topped in general only by Nation’s Pride, the Nazi propaganda film found within Inglourious Basterds. He shows a fantastic amount of skill here, from the way he manages to balance the tone, to the restraint he shows with the violence and gore, to how he weaves in social commentary, and even to how gorgeous some shots are. The acting is terrible but brilliant, the film is filled with tension and atmosphere, and it certainly doesn’t struggle to hammer home its thoughts on infidelity. It’s Funny Games for the FaceBook generation.
Bottom Line: Knock Knock is a wonderfully tense and darkly funny movie – the best of Eli Roth’s career.
Recommendation: If you liked Funny Games, enjoy erotic thrillers with a point, or want to see a different side to Eli Roth, Knock Knock is definitely worth checking out.[rating=4]